Advice for indie musicians that applies to comedians too

So I make music too. Ruby Lament is my current music project. Before that I put out a solo record. Before that I played guitar and sang in a Chicago band called Plastics Hi-Fi (better than The White Stripes!?).

The solo record is sold at CD Baby which means I get emails from the site's creator, Derek Sivers. He gives lots of great advice to indie musicians about how to promote their music.

A lot of what he says makes sense for indie comedians too. Below are some of his recent posts at along with my "translations" for comedians.

Never have a limit on your income

if you make a living only providing an in-person (hands-on) service, you are limiting your income. If you were in a “while you sleep” business, there is no limit to how much you can make...Musicians MUST NOT buy into that “only earn by performing” belief because it limits your income.

Translated for comedians: If you're established, this would mean making money from selling albums or shirts. But for small timers, there's still a lesson here: Don't rely solely on stagetime to get known. Figure out ways for people to find out about you "while you sleep" via things like online videos, a blog, or a podcast.

If I had a record label, would you be signed to it?

To confidently invest in an artist (as a label), I’d want to see:

every song has been absolutely improved repeatedly - every note/syllable crafted to be the best it can be

live show is so entertaining that even a deaf person would enjoy it

artist has done this for a few years and still believes that this is their real calling in life, regardless of external rewards (or total lack of)

an unflappably healthy attitude to the immense amount of work it really takes to be successful at anything

Translated for comedians: Perfect your craft. Be hilarious every time you perform. Be undeniably good. Do crowds love you as much as they love Reggie Watts or Mulaney? If not, then why would you think you'll get to blow up like those guys? Expect to pay your dues. And don't get all negative 'cuz you're not getting great shows or you're barking or you're still doing open mics.

What’s really keeping you from where you need to be? (It’s not piracy.)

What’s really keeping you from where you need to be? (It’s not piracy.)

“Obscurity is your real enemy. Fight obscurity until you’re a household name, then piracy will be more of a problem than obscurity. Until then, worry about pigs, not sharks.”

The thing separating us from where we are and where we need to be is not piracy.

It’s always something more internal, whether writing, communicating, producing, networking, promoting, or taking a wildly different approach to marketing.

Putting so much attention and energy into fighting piracy (as if, when solved, you’ll suddenly start selling 10 times more) - is misguided effort, distracting you from what you really need to be improving.

Translated for comedians: Don't blame others for your lack of success. Look for internal solutions. Not getting booked on other people's shows? Start your own. Not getting laughs? Write better jokes. Etc.

Whatever scares you or excites you, go do it

Whatever scares you or excites you, go do it

I have some easy rule-of-thumbs to follow

whatever excites you, go do it
whatever scares you, go do it
every time you’re making a choice, one choice is the safe/comfortable choice - and one choice is the risky/uncomfortable choice. the risky/uncomfortable choice is the one that will teach you the most and make you grow the most, so that’s the one you should choose.

Translated for comedians: No translation needed.

Want more Sivers advice? Check out How to Call Attention to Your Music (PDF). There's lots to learn there for any indie performer (music, comedy, or whatever).